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DOCTOR WHO: Season 2, Episode 1-4

NEW EARTH. Season 2, episode 1.

Christmas is over, there's a new Doctor in town and the transition has gone... well, not smoothly, but it'll do. For Rose and The (new) Doctor's first adventure, we go far into the future - to New New New New New New New oh, whatever, New New York - where some old "friends" are waiting...

Part of the fun of Doctor Who is its changes. It keeps the show refreshing, new; stops it from going too stale. Actors, writers, directors; all shift, letting countless of different stories be told through one show. My personal favorite part of the show is that it can be anything; one week it's a horror episode, another a riveting space opera, before it becomes a strangely intimate story about The Doctor and his relationships - with other Time Lords, with companions, with aliens. It's a show that celebrates humanity, in all its forms, and changes at will in order to do that better.

The show also gets steadily better, with a rise in quality both on the effects, the writing, the acting, which makes it fun to watch. To see how they perfect the formulas, try new things out. That's what the show is for, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I do think the quality gets more steady after a while though; season two fits snugly into the show's era when it's still unsure of what it is, exactly. Is it a children's programme? How scary can it be? How dark can they go? What do the audience want?

With Russell T. Davies as showrunner, season one focused on the time-traveling aspects of the show, establishing the rules and universe for the viewers who hadn't seen any of the old episode. The first season is a very Earthbound story; we're very much in the center of the universe. In season two we travel to other parts of the universe - though not yet. It's a good structure, to ease a new viewer in. Sadly, the best version of the series is planet- and universe-hopping, where every episode is like a mini-movie; something brand new. Every time they go into the uncertain, leave the Earth completely behind, that's when the show truly shines. That's the Doctor Who I want. I know Earth. I know it's history, and while I'm interested in its future, I'd much rather go to far-off places - strange, wondrous places I'll never, ever get to see.

Sadly, it'll still be a while till we get to that version. After the Christmas special, the show is still predominantly a story about something new - evidenced by The Doctor going to New Earth, New New York and so on. There's some typical Doctor Who-silliness, with apple grass, before it's off to the hospital and the cat nurses - another sign of the series' growing pains.

It doesn't take long before the cat nurses are revealed as evil - using clones to cure all kinds of diseases - and with Cassandra the last human kidnapping Rose, it's time for a zombie-body-swapping-episode, with effects straight out of an 80's arcade game. And look, this really isn't one of the show's best episodes. At all. But it tries.

The central theme of "new" grows stronger throughout the episode, though RTD still hasn't figured out how to pace these in a way that works. There are too many hints, it's too obvious who's evil and the plot doesn't really twist and turn; the cat's plot is revealed, and then it's off to heal the clones - later the "new humans". The body-swapping is more of a nuisance than anything else, and Cassandra keeps being annoying.

That's not to say there aren't good parts. As usual in this era, the quality shifts and jumps - sometimes in the span of a single scene. Face of Boe is always good, and the episode gets plenty of pathos through conversations about these age-old beings who must watch everything wither and die. The Doctor as a "lonely god" never fails to pull at the heartstrings.

The Doctor also gets to test who he is through the ethics of using clones to heal others. Are clones really people? The Doctor seems to think so. This Doctor, at least. It's a very Doctor-like sentiment; everyone's worthy of a life. No one is better than anyone else; we're all special and important in our own little way. The sense of this pops up again over and over, but it's especially prevalent in episodes like The Almost People and some Cybermen-episodes.

Cassandra gets a character arc here, instead of just being a villain, and she's all the better for it. RTD proves again that he can knock the emotional beats out of the park; the scene where the sick clones reach out, begging to be touched is sad and tragic in just the right amount. Cassandra says it best;" All their lives they've never been touched..." Even she sees the horror in that.

An episode obsessed with new things ends with a death - the final end. Cassandra seems to be getting a typical easy way out, ending up in Chip the Clone... until she doesn't. She starts to understand. She becomes ready to die and passes willingly onto whatever's next, though not before taking a trip to her own past, telling an earlier version of herself (in the form of Chip the Clone) how beautiful she is. It's a great use of time-travel, it's emotional and it fits with the character. RTD kills in scenes like these; tragic, sad and beautiful. As we'll see in later episodes... Some of them, thankfully, much later.

CONCLUSION: Season two starts off properly with a visit to another world, after a season of time-traveling on and around Earth. The show hasn't flung it's doors all the way open yet, content to play in its little sandbox and figure some parts out as it goes on, but it's heading in the right direction. The episode itself has some good parts, but there's still some growing pains and a lot of childish silliness - neither of them of the good variety. Thankfully, the episode has a strong core and it hits the emotional beats well, which saves it from being a strange romp with very little to say, like the Christmas special. Still, not much better... but we're getting there.

RATING: 2 out of 5 stars, 4/10, C-.


- I really hope they didn't tell Billie Piper about the "disinfectant" in the elevator.

- "How on New Earth, you might say." I don't... know what to say.

- Oh god, enough with the body swapping.


TOOTH AND CLAW. Season 2, episode 2.

Werewolves. Scotland. Period. Wit. A monster in the house. We most definitely are amused.

This is one of my favorite episodes of early Doctor Who. It's witty, it's wonderful, it's moody and boasts a great atmosphere. It's even a little philosophical, with some great help from the Queen.

The Doctor and Rose end up trapped in a castle with a werewolf (ish... it's really an alien, of course, but I forget) and the Queen, with clerics led by the magician from Game of Thrones shutting them out. The characters are split-up, all figuring out things on their own, then brought back, using what they figure out, breaking apart again, hiding, sacrificing themselves for others or saving themselves. So many fully realised characters here, even if they are pretty simple.

Rose figures out the creature is an alien, trying to find out what it wants. It's very refreshing, since she so often seems very stupid on this show. I wonder if that's a side-effect of some very simple plots? If the companions had been smarter, they would've figured it out sooner, asked questions, and there wouldn't have been enough plot? The pacing and amount of plot doesn't support clever companions all the time...

The sound design in this one is fantastic, the CGI is still a little shoddy but they use it sparingly. The werewolf looks great, shots of the moon are breathtaking. This episode is a perfect example of what Doctor Who can be; it has a clever plot, it takes place in a beautifully realized period and the dialogue is fantastic. They manage so much with very little here; sound design, the pacing, hiding the monster, tension running high...

It's just good fun.

It's also a great episode to watch for set-ups and pay-offs. Even if there are simple, clear-cut villains/monsters here - you know the guy is going to be a werewolf from the moment they mention the full moon - the episode is full of mysteries and good, clever answers. The "telescope", the old campfire story of the wolf, the father's obsession with this, all culminating in "What if there's a trap inside the trap?".

In the end, The Doctor and Rose get knighted, before being banished for living in a world of "stars and magic, and think it fun". It's the first time in the rebooted show that these adventures have real costs; consequences that will come back to The Doctor later, a theme that Moffat picked up with his frequent "I got too big"-plotline. Still in the future now, though we'll get there.

CONCLUSION: A fantastic episode. It does a lot, and gets away with pretty much all of it - even framing the wolf's death as tragic. Another death, another day, though it still hurts. You can tell The Doctor wanted to find another solution, but once again it falls to him to make the hard choices.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 stars, 9 out of 10, A-.


- Again with the hammering on the TARDIS control board... I hope you know what you're doing Doctor, even though I know you don't...

- The Doctor tries to inspire people to read; "We've got the best weapons in the world; we're in a library. Books!" Good Doctor.

- Only Doctor Who can build an episode around "The royal family are werewolves. Why?" and make it this good.

- The presence of Torchwood grows with every episode, with the Queen ending this on a bit of a downer note; "If this Doctor should return, then he should beware. Because Torchwood is waiting."

SCHOOL REUNION. Season 2, episode 3.

Russell T. Davies returns with an episode in the present. Aliens have taken over a school in London, with Anthony Stewart Head as Headmaster and Sarah Jane Smith making an appearance!

This episode seems to be built around the idea kids sometimes have; that teachers are monsters and that they sleep in the school at night. It's a mediocre episode, better than New Earth but suffering with many of the same problems; it tries to be ethical and prove a point, teach a lesson, but it doesn't really work. It's helped a lot by the emotional beats, which RTD continue to excel at. I'd like him to do fewer episodes and focus on the big ones - the tragic and the epic. He's usually better at those - though "Midnight" is fantastic, if I remember correctly. Looking forward to that once, actually.

It has a good emotional core, with The Doctor as a lonely god, seeing everything die, with him living on and on and on... And on. But now he doesn't have to do that. He can reshape reality like clay. No more endings, no more aging. It's poetic and a good theme, though it would've been better if the bat people had a better design and maybe a little better plan. The plot here doesn't feel like it fits together. Some of it feels a bit rushed; the episode wants to do too much, and ends up not doing much at all.

Rose and Sarah Jane Smith are more annoying than anything else, though there is a nice vein of saying goodbyes running through it. Mickey continues to be even more useless than K9, but he gets to go on the TARDIS now, after The Doctor says a goodbye that's been a long time coming...

CONCLUSION: This is a very mediocre episode.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 stars, 5 out of 10, C.


- "Correct-amundo! A word I've never used before and hopefully never will again." RTD is good at some of the dialogue, though The Doctor saying "Physics" fifteen times isn't really... funny. Tennant handles it well though.

THE GIRL IN THE FIREPLACE. Season 2, episode 4.

Spooky, clever, funny. This is Moffat's first great episode, and where Doctor Who proves itself as being capable of much, much more than they've done thus far.

The Doctor, Rose and Mickey ends up on a strange spaceship with time-portals to 1700's France, arranged around the life of Madame du Pompadour. Then there are clockwork-men and hearts in spaceships... And horses. And romance.

The Girl in the Fireplace is good fun. It's a great romp. A tall tale that no other show could tell. Moffat's plot twists and thickens, it makes you laugh and it scares you. The "If this clock is broken, then where does the ticking come from?"-scene is a prelude of all the scary ideas Moffat use in this show, and it's so very effective. The dialogue is clever and silly, never too childish. It sports great characters with solid arcs. It's even a bit sad.

Madame du Pompadour is a great character, the plot thickens and is talked about, then twists around. Relationships change and, even though it's a stand-alone, they've all changed because of this adventure. With the last reveal, the ship being called SS Madame du Pompadour, is very clever and lifts the episode up even further. It's the first brilliant episode of the show, and it's a joy to watch - regardless if it's the first or the fifteenth time.

CONCLUSION: One of the best episodes of the show, and one of the first very, very good ones. The creature design is good, the effects-work is splendid, it's grown-up yet fun, dark but silly. It's an exemplary episode, carrying classic themes and being a great example of what this show is.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars, 10 out of 10, A.

It's off to a brand new place in the next post, as we dig into season 2's first two-parter.

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